On the second night of a back-to-back, the Dallas Mavericks took a .500 record into the Quicken Loans Arena(a place they lost last year), and came away with a much-needed win, defeating the Kyrie Irving-led Cavs in a game that was closer than the final score indicated and uglier than the "W" that will go in the record column would suggest. But hey, for a team that had lost 4 out of 5, style points are hardly important.
The game opened with Dallas seemingly right where they left off last night against Indiana: playing lackadaisical, unfocused basketball, allowing second chance shots on defense and making careless passes on offense. Cleveland would open up a seven point lead at 19-12, prompting Rick Carlisle to call a timeout and pull the four remaining starters in favor of this "never would have thought I'd see it in the first quarter" foursome: Bernard James, Dominique Jones, Jae Crowder, and Troy Murphy. It seemed that the coach was not happy with the starters, as the Cleveland broadcasting team noted Carlisle was giving Mayo "a look", whatever that means. The Cavaliers would stretch the lead to a game-high nine, but this new lineup would actually prove to be fairly effective, as an 8-0 run to end the quarter somehow saw the game tied, despite how poorly Dallas had played to that point.
The second quarter had the starters return(with Brandan Wright in place of Elton Brand), and start to show signs of life offensively, but it was a see-saw battle as Dallas was still not particularly effective in slowing down Cleveland. Actually, that might be putting it lightly. Dallas was a bit of a mess on defense in the first half: slow to rotate on the perimeter, and still absent a consistent rim protector to deter drives to the basket. UT product Daniel "Boobie" Gibson made Dallas pay for leaving him open, hitting three threes in the first half. Cleveland would not pull away, but would take the quarter and entered halftime with a 1 point lead.
The story for Dallas in recent games had been that the Mavs would come back out on the floor after halftime and fall flat on their face, but this was not the case tonight. Dallas continued to effectively attack the Cavs, specifically with a three point barrage. Kyrie Irving started to exert his control, hitting back-to-back jumpers in one impressive stretch, but seemed to injure his hand and left to be examined midway through the quarter. Could Dallas take advantage? Well, not exactly. Cleveland would post their lowest scoring quarter of the game, yet Dallas clung to just a two point lead entering the final period.
The fourth quarter saw Troy Murphy hit the first two baskets for Dallas, both threes, and showing the first real glimpse of the value he could theoretically bring. That would kickstart a balanced Dallas attack where all five members of the closing lineup for Dallas scored more than once, and the unselfish Mavs showed the kind of urgency you would expect the fourth quarter to bring out in a professional basketball player. Dallas built the lead to seven with 6:45 left, but now-returned Kyrie Irving would make sure the lead would be short-lived, as Cleveland erased that lead in less than two minutes, tying it at 89. Dallas then bult a 9 point lead, and though Kyrie would valiantly try to respond(this just in: Kyrie Irving is really good), this lead would stick, as the Cavs stalled out at 95 and would not score the final minute and a half. A couple of free throws would ice the game at 103-95.
- Elton Brand played just 11 minutes tonight. There was a sequence where Brand blocked a pair of shots in one possession, but overall it was another less than stellar performance for Brand, who may be near or already residing in the doghouse.
- Speaking of the doghouse, Roddy Beaubois was a DNP tonight, as Dominique Jones was given all the backup point guard minutes. Jones would score last second baskets to end both the first and second quarters, and had a few other moments of promise in between, though there were also the standard headscratching passes, missed gimme layups and total lack of jumpshots. Maybe we could call this encouraging, but Jones' promotion would seem, if anything, to be due to the failure of others rather than his own accomplishments.
- We finally saw a pulse from Troy Murphy's outside game...but he had a bagel in the rebound column in 19 minutes. I was about to write something positive about Murphy(the pair of threes he hit early in the 4th felt pretty important), until I read that. Murphy's defense also remains suspect. Brand clearly isn't doing a whole lot to take minutes from Murphy, so I doubt he'll be benched any time soon.
- Bernard James is starting to really crack this rotation. Coaches notice hustle, and the blocks and boards are pretty important for Dallas right now.
- Kaman also had a bunch of blocks; six, infact. There was a stretch in the 4th when Dallas went small with Marion at power forward, and Cleveland put Tyler Zeller on Kaman, and Varejao on Marion. Kaman, naturally, took advantage. It is not hard to imagine that, when Dirk comes back, Kaman will exploit matchups against the opponent's weaker frontcourt defender.
- I admit I have some squirmy reactions to Vince Carter, especially when he goes into "tunnel vision" mode on drives, or fires 35 footers early in the shot clock, but Dallas kind of needs him, and kind of desperately. You see games like tonight, where Dallas wins by piling quality possessions on top of another, and it becomes apparent that the Mavs aren't going to have a go-to scorer who will just carry them. They need everyone to contribute, on both ends, and for all his warts, there aren't many guys outhustling or out-"wanting" Vince right now.
- Dallas won the rebound battle amazingly, 42-38, but had another 20-turnover game. If it's not one, it's the other.